KGO-TV in San Francisco joins the legions of local news operations who have had reporters catapulted to the heights of Woodward and Bernstein by testing local fish for mercury with the help of agenda driven activists. And wouldn’t you know it they didn’t get the whole story quite right:
March 5, 2010
Dear Mr. Keeshan,
I am writing to express serious concerns about Michael Finny’s report on mercury in seafood from Wednesday March 3rd.
Finny is either unaware or intentionally fails to report that the 1.0ppm FDA standard that he basis his story on has a 1,000% safety factor built-in, rendering the slightly elevated samples he discusses not only safe but almost statically irrelevant.
Had Finny properly researched the issue with independent sources he would have found that the safety factor also known as an uncertainty factor, "was established to limit consumers' methyl mercury exposure to levels 10 times lower than the lowest levels associated with adverse effects." This means a single sample Finny tested would have had to exceed the FDA's level by ten times to begin to even approach a level of concern for the average consumer. For a reporter to be unaware of such a standard raises questions of competence, for a reporter to be aware of such a standard and fail to report on it raises questions of ethics. We hope your own internal review will determine which is at play in this case.
In terms of scouring Finny uses an agenda-driven environmental group; GotMercury, a lab that promotes and provides mercury testing to retail stores as part of its business model; Micro Analytical Systems (MASI) and a well know mercury activist; Jane Hightower as the primary subjects of his piece. From a standards perspective we wonder if this sourcing lives up to the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics that insists reporters, “always question sources’ motives” and “distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.” Could Finny not have pulled his own samples, taken them to an independent lab and contacted an independent researcher who has not build a practice on diagnosing patients with mercury related ills?
And finally with simple accuracy in mind it is troubling that Finny himself gives voice to a supposed accusation from the “Western Fish Boat Owners” that “fish caught in international waters” is the problem. This statement is almost nonsensical. Tuna and Swordfish are highly migratory predators that swim from the U.S.’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ: 200 miles from shore) into “international waters” constantly; they are not exclusive to one area. The size of any individual fish has more to do with its relative levels of mercury than anything else. With tuna in mind, to suggest a species that can swim as fast as 30 miles per hour and regularly traverses the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would have a lower-mercury, local brethren would be false. If certain fishermen are targeting smaller juvenile fish with lower mercury levels that are found inside the EEZ your viewers can rest assured there are just as many or more of those smaller varieties in “international waters” but for obvious sustainability reasons they are not targeted.
We look forward to the results of your review and ask that you publish an addendum to this repot on line.
National Fisheries Institute
cc Stephanie Adrouny
Assistant News Director